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Media Conglomerates

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It was Thomas Carlyle who first referred to the press as the “fourth estate”. He called it so because of the press’s capacity to create advocacy in political issues. With this capacity, the press and the media act as a force to counteract and balance the prevailing societal powers. Indeed, the press and the media has grown to be a powerful force in the 20th century. Through its ability to open the eyes of the ordinary citizen to events all over the globe, the media has been an institution that has helped educate and elevate the consciousness of the average American. The ability of media to report and advocate issues from across the globe has shaped our culture and our common history. We only need to remember the image of young Kim Phuc Phan Thi running from a napalm attack to hark back memories of the Vietnam War or the face of Mother Teresa to remember that with all the evil in the world, saints may still walk among us.

Media is a powerful institution because of its ability to report and promote issues it deems relevant to the ordinary citizen. Without media, it would be near impossible for the average Joe to be aware of events from around the world that affect his existence. Through media, a citizen in New Mexico could keep track of events in Washington DC, events that happen a continent away but affect his daily condition. Government is not the only thing that the citizen can monitor through media. Media has also helped America know about the actions of corporations. Was it not Media that broke the news of Enron’s bankruptcy, of the massive profits of Exxon with ever increasing gas prices? Without media, the average citizen could not keep an eye on these institutions, without media, it would be just like giving government and corporations a free pass to do whatever they want. This is because media has no master but the public it serves.

But what if media was not made to disappear, what if media was put under control of those that it should be watching? What if media itself was a property of corporations? That is what happens in a media conglomerate. Media conglomerates abound in today’s world; a cursory look at popular TV networks reveals the prevalence of these conglomerates – NBC (owned by G.E.), Fox (owned by News Corporation), CNN (owned by Time Warner). For me, these media conglomerates are one of the most dangerous forces shaping our news.

On the surface, there seems to be nothing wrong with media conglomerates. Media conglomerates for the most part are just the unification of different mediums of media be it through the internet, radio or TV, conglomerates are the same media operating over different methods. However, this conglomeration of different media of broadcasting will sooner or later lead to conflict of interest. Could we expect a critic for The New York Post (a News Corp. subsidiary) to lambaste a movie made by 20th Century Fox (another News Corp. subsidiary)? How about a review in Time (owned by Time Warner) of a Warner Brothers movie (also owned by Time Warner)?

By the very act of making media partner with other institutions, it removes the independence of the press to act and report on issues as they see fit. Conflicts of interest are going to arise that will jeopardize the integrity of the reporting media institution. A key part of media’s role in our society is its independence. An outlet in a media conglomerate loses that independence the bigger the media outlet becomes. Not only that, the credibility of media reporting on itself is dubious at best.

Most importantly the danger with media conglomerates is that by consolidating different media outlets, the corporations that owns these outlets become too powerful. Media companies control newspapers, TV stations, movie studios, internet portals, magazines, publishing houses, and the list goes on. All of these supposedly independent eyes of the public all under the control of one institution give that institution a lot of power to shape opinion. Moreover, unlike government institutions, there is no inherent check and balance system to these giant media institutions.

As an example of how this power could be found in Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, parent corporation of 20th Century Fox, Fox Broadcasting Company, various newspapers and Fox News. Rupert Murdoch has often been criticized for using his media companies to echo his own conservative political views. Fox News itself is criticized for its supposed conservative bias. Additionally, in 2003 during the build up to the war in Iraq, 175 newspapers around the world that are owned by News Corporation unanimously opined in favor of the War in Iraq, the position held by Rupert Murdoch. Even in his hometown Australia where 76% of the populace didn’t support the war, News Corp. newspapers in the main Australian cities all said the same thing – that George W. Bush was pursuing the right path in attacking Iraq (Greenslade, 2006).

Another example of abuse of media power is that of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi is a media tycoon that owns three major national TV channels in Italy. Together, these assets account for nearly half of the Italian TV market. Berlusconi was able to leverage his media outlets into political power, getting him elected and aiding his stay in power amid controversies that hounded his government. As proof of how media ownership consolidates a lot of power into a single entity, social scientists studying in Italy found that voters in Italy no longer voted along party lines or values, rather they voted along TV stations – those who primarily watched Berlusconi owned stations voted for Berlusconi’s party while those who watched State TV voted for other parties.  Moreover, Berlusconi abused his media control while in office, continuously hounding his critics on his TV stations. For years, Berlusconi’s Canale 5 TV channel had a 20minute show that was dedicated entirely to attacking those who dared investigate Berlusconi and his associates (Stille, 2006).

While all this is certainly horrid, what could probably be the most damaging thing to arise from the Berlusconi era was the complete erosion of journalistic integrity in Italy. Berlusconi “eliminate[d] any idea that the press might serve as an independent forum where the claims of the political world could be evaluated with an element of detachment” (Stille, 2006). Berlusconi used and abused the media and left it in ruins and now Italy has no fourth estate. And all that enabled Berlusconi to do so was ownership of a large number of media outlets.

That is precisely why media conglomerates are a dangerous force in the news. Media conglomerates give tremendous amounts of power to single institutions that are accountable to no one but themselves. Media conglomerates should not be allowed to amass such power lest they destroy not only the credibility of our news but also the societal roles it plays in upholding a functioning democracy. Media’s status as a fourth estate rests upon its independence and credibility to advocate social and political issues relevant to the populace. It is through the media that the ordinary citizen is empowered to use his constitutional rights to act on the powers that be. When media is a part of industry, does media still work for the public trust or does media now work for its corporate owners? Media conglomerates remove media’s independence and credibility and without independence and credibility, media is reduced to being just a propaganda machine.


Greensdale, R.. (February 17, 2003). Their master’s voice. In The Guardian. Retrieved May 14, 2007, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,897015,00.html.

Shah, A.. (April 29, 2007). Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentration of Ownership. In Global Issues. Retrieved May 14, 2007 , from http://www.globalissues.org/HumanRights/Media/Corporations/Owners.asp#Concentrationofownershipiswheretheproblemlargelylies.

Stille, A.. (September 2006). Silvio’s Shadow. In Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved May 14, 2007, from http://www.cjr.org/issues/2006/5/Stille.asp.

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